Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ (American, 1937?-), "O Root" (from the "O Antiphons" series). Of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Tags: Tree of Jesse. Source: http://csjstpaul.org/ansgar_holmbergs_o_antiphon_paintings.aspx; http://yokeofchrist.blogspot.com/2010/12/o-root-of-jesse.html

Day 3: Obstacles to Your Relationship

No one likes traffic congestion. Congestion hinders progress. We need to move in one direction, but congestion stops us or detours us. We can’t be our best or do our best when congestion gets in the way.

Do you have congestion in your relationship with God? The research shows that a significant majority of people admit they need and desire a healthier relationship with God. Most people want a strong spiritual foundation. They want to get closer to God and to spend more time with Him. But nearly 7 of 10 (69 percent) in the study desire more time for church and other spiritual matters. God is not in the picture in many lives. Congestion is in the way.

Jeannie is an artist who lives in Franklin, Tennessee. She was asked what she thought she needed to have a more complete life. Her response was straightforward: “That’s easy. I would like to get closer to God.”

She was asked, where do you attend church?

“I don’t.”

How often do you read the Bible?

“Not much.”

Do you pray regularly?

“Nope, sporadically.”

A pattern was developing.

“Look,” Jeannie continued, “You can ask me questions all day about my spirituality, and I’m not going to fare well. Thats what I’m getting at I’m not close to God, but I want to be. And I really don’t have a good excuse. I’ve just never made a habit of those things I know I should be doing. I’m too busy for my own good. I guess l’m too busy for God.”

Read Philippians 3:12;

“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus”

What enabled Paul to move forward on his spiritual journey? The apostle Paul was determined to get closer to God, but he knew he had not reached his goal. Still he didn’t quit. In fact, he was able to move forward because Christ had already done the work. Paul could make every effort because Christ was his strength. Paul reached toward what was ahead. He pursued the goal. He removed the congestion and had clear movement toward God.

Now that you have clarity, a clear goal in mind, let’s see what’s next in pursuing a closer relationship with God. Movement toward God can be summed in live words: prayerful, forgetful, incremental, immediate, and resilient.

Movement Toward God: Prayerful

I struggle with consistency in my prayer life. l meet people who are great prayer warriors. Who spent hours in prayer, and I am ashamed. With all that needs to be done in ministry, l have trouble focusing for 30 minutes. l begin my conversation with God, but l often start thinking about my to-do list for the day. So l ask God to help me with my prayer life.

Read Philippians 4:6

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”

How is worry related to prayer?

What does it mean to present everything to God in prayer?

How does thanksgiving relate to prayer?

Paul said in everything let your requests be made known to God. He wants you to take all your needs, burdens, worries, and cares to him in prayer. So your first step in a better prayer life is to pray for a better prayer life.

You’ve already established clarity for getting closer to God. The next step is action. Clarity must shift to movement. Your goals must also be an action plan. That’s where we often tail, isn’t it? We plan to read the Bible, but we don’t do it.

And we plan to get closer to God, but we don’t do it.

Clarity says to have a good plan. Movement says to act on the plan. And that’s often where the breakdown occurs. Thats why we begin with prayer. We need to begin with God, not ourselves. We ask for his strength, not our own.

What are some obstacles that keep you from praying as much as you need to?

Pause and pray that God will draw you closer to him as you practice spiritual disciplines like prayer. Ask him to help you overcome the obstacles that are keeping you from having a closer relationship with him.

Stop depending on your limited ability and start depending on the one who has no limits. Nothing moves congestion like prayer.

Movement Toward God: Forgetful

Being forgetful is bad, right? Not always. Paul said with confidence “One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by Gods heavenly call in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). It’s really amazing. The apostle talked about his singular focus in life, and the first thing he mentioned is that he forgot.

You see, forgetting is not always had. In fact, it can he positively life-changing. You’ve set goals before and planned to get closer to God thinking this time it would work. But it didn’t. So now you are paralyzed from moving forward because of past failures.

Listen to Stephanie’s story.

“I’m a divorcee,” she began with her eyes looking downward. “My husband left me three years ago. And he had every right to leave. I had an affair with his best friend. Well, I guess you would say his former best friend. I can`t explain myself to this day. I didn’t love his friend. I loved my husband. I still love him.”

Stephanie responded in the surveys that she wanted to move closer to God. She had begun attending church, regularly reading her Bible, and praying every day. But then she stopped. Why?

“I just feel like such a failure,” she admitted. “I don’t know if I can ever love or be loved again by anyone, including God.”

Jesus met a woman who probably felt a lot like Stephanie.

Read John 8:1-12

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

How did Jesus deal with the woman’s sin?

How did Jesus instruct the woman to deal with her past?

Jesus, the one who is God, forgave the woman’s sin and told her to forget about it. Leave it behind. Go and sin no more. Is it possible that some of the congestion you are experiencing is because you can’t forget? Colossians l:13-14 reminds you that Jesus has redeemed your past: “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” He has forgiven. Now you must forget and move forward.

Look at the mission statement you wrote for a closer relationship with God. How are you doing?

Have you started and failed?

Read I John 1:9:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Movement Toward God: Incremental

You mission statement is also an action plan. Therefore, it has to be realistic. If we set goals that are too ambitious, we will become discouraged and frustrated. Your mission statement is a beginning, not an end. You must move at a pace that is sustainable.

Don’t be a Christian meteor. You’ve seen the type. She starts out really serious about getting closer to God. She spends 15 hours a week at the church. She prays two hours a day. She reads the Bible two hours a day. She goes on three international mission trips in one year And then she completely burns out.

A relationship with God will take time to develop. Begin with simple, incremental steps. You’ll remove a lot of congestion that way And one year from now, you may be surprised at your progress.

Examine your mission statement to determine whether the action steps are too large. Identity the first incremental step you will work on in your relationship with God.

Movement Toward God: Immediate

Let’s return to the story of the adulterous woman. Jesus clearly communicated to her that she was forgiven. But then what did he tell her? “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore” (John 8:11). Notice that Jesus did not say, “Give this serious thought and after a few weeks change your lifestyle.” No, he told her to sin no more. Right then. At that very moment. Change your lifestyle without delay. In the research one of the main sources of congestion was “soon.”

° “Soon l will start going to church again.”

° “Soon l plan to begin reading my Bible every day.”

° “Soon l will start talking about spiritual matters with my family.”

Of course, “soon” never happens. It’s put on the shelf of good intentions. But “soon” becomes “never” Movement is hindered by congestion, and one of the most common forms of congestion is procrastination.

The writer of Hebrews addressed this issue in an unusual way: “Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any oil you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception” (Heb. 3:12-13). The writer said to encourage one another “while it is still called today.” Daily doesn’t mean soon. Daily doesn’t mean tomorrow. Daily doesn’t mean when you get around to it. Daily means today, now, at this very moment.

What part of your mission statement do you tend to procrastinate on?

What part of your mission statement will you commit to implement immediately?

Movement Toward God: Resilient

The apostle Paul provides an example for many aspects of the simple life. Second Corinthians 11:24-28 gives us a glimpse of the trials he endured:

Five times l received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one. Three times l was beaten with rods. Once l was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. l have spent a night and a day in the depths of the sea. On frequent journeys, l faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing. Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches.

Not such a pretty life, was it? But Paul always bounced back. He never gave up.

Read 2 Corinthians 12:10

“Because of Christ, I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

Why did Paul never give up ih spite ot so much hardship?

Paul was truly resilient.

The simple life means we start taking some serious steps toward getting closer to God. Maybe you feel the fear of failure is just too great. In the past you’ve tried to read the Bible every day, have a daily prayer time, and go to church each week. And you’ve failed. What’s the use of trying yet again?

Movement means we try again. And if we fail, we try again. It means we are resilient and do not give up. View the YouTube video above of  “The Last Lecture,” featuring Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Pausch, at age 46, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Instead of going into a shell and giving up, he continued to live his life to the fullest. He could have had a pity party about leaving behind a loving wife and three children. He could have said life isn’t fair. He could have been angry. He could have given up.

“The Last Lecture” is just that. It is Pausch’s final lecture at the university where he served as a professor. It reveals his indomitable spirit and incredible attitude. One of my favorite quotations from Pausch in this lecture is “I’m dying and l’m having fun. And l’m

going to keep having fun every day I have left.”

Pausch died on July 25, 2008, at age 47. But he never gave up.

How will resilience help you move toward your goals for growing closer to God?

Movement and Getting Closer to God

The pattern of the simple life is clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. The big stumbling block in the simple life is movement. Why? Because movement means we have to change our habits. And by our very nature we are creatures of habit. Movement means you have to break many of your habitual patterns.

Check any habits that keep you from moving closer to God. Spending too much time on entertainment instead of time with God and his word.

ls there really anything more important than getting closer to God? Now is the time to begin. Break the habits that hold you back And make the decision, in Gods strength, to start now.

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